Last night, I was chaplain to a family dealing with a sudden loss. In their grief, they asked over and over, as so many of us do, “Why?” I didn’t even attempt an answer. Anything would have been just noise at that point. No matter what I said, their loved one would still be dead. The closest I can come to a reason why is that the world is not what it should be. In this season of the liturgical calendar, the lectionary readings remind Christians of just that.
Today is the first day of Advent, a time of preparation leading up to the celebration of Christmas. Until I went to seminary, I didn’t really know much about Advent. Many evangelical churches don’t observe the traditional Christian calendar, and some of my friends still ask me, “Advent? Isn’t that a Catholic thing?” But it is a Protestant thing, too, and I’m glad that it can even be a Baptist thing, in many churches like the one of which I am a member. The rhythm of the liturgical year has come to mean a lot to me, and there are times, like today, when it’s almost eerie how perfectly it speaks to the needs of my soul. With a grieving family’s “Why?” still ringing in my ears, I will go to church this morning and bear witness to the incompleteness and wrongness of the world. It is a world where those we love die without warning, as I saw in the emergency room last night. It is a world ravaged by sickness and suffering, as we remember on this first Advent Sunday that is also World AIDS Day. And as the lectionary reading in Isaiah 2:1-5 acknowledges, it is a world with far too many swords and not enough plowshares.
But that is not all the scripture says. It also tells us that things will not always be so. Advent is a time of waiting in hope for the appearance of Christ. In the same breath that we confess the brokenness of the world and all of us in it, we also dare to proclaim faith in a day that God will heal and restore and set things right. The epistle reading from Romans 13:8-14 invites us to partner with God in making things better by loving our neighbors, and promises that the darkness will soon give way to daylight. That’s hard to imagine when the night is so thick all around us. But on this day we light a candle, and do our best to believe.